by Terry McCormick
The spirit was willing, but their execution was weak as the Tennessee Titans dropped a 27-20 decision to the Houston Texans Sunday at NRG Stadium.
The Titans, who trailed 14-0 in the first quarter, battled back to tie the game at 17 and again at 20 against their division rival. But after coming back from costly mistakes early in the game, the Titans yielded a 67-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter to Texans rookie Will Fuller, giving Houston the lead for good.
Tennessee, which dropped to 1-3 on the season, had its opportunities, but in the fourth quarter, when the Titans needed one of their comeback drives, it simply did not materialize.
The Titans defense, which struggled early in the game, giving up scores on Houston’s first three drives, got a fourth-down stop that set up the Tennessee offense at the Titans 42.
The Titans moved downfield and got as far as the Texans’ 28, but two consecutive passes for Andre Johnson fell incomplete as the Texans held on for the victory. The Titans got one last play after forcing a Houston punt, but the ball was fumbled following a couple of laterals.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota struggled all day to find a rhythm, hitting just 13 of 29 passes for 202 yards with one interception. It was Mariota’s fifth interception in four games this season for the Titans.
Running back DeMarco Murray provided a good chunk of the Tennessee offense, rushing for 95 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns as the Titans pulled even momentarily in the first half at 17-17.
The Titans could have gone to the locker room tied and getting the second-half kickoff, but a special teams penalty on fourth down with the Texans punting, gave Houston enough yards necessary for Nick Novak to connect on a 45-yard field goal and take a 20-17 lead into halftime.
The Titans tied the game on the first series of the third quarter, moving down to the Houston 8-yard line before the drive stalled. Tennessee settled for Ryan Succop’s 26-yard field goal. Succop had connected from 48 yards in the first half for the Titans’ first points.
In the first half, the Texans dominated early as Osweiler hit on 9 of his first 10 passes for 112 yards, including TD passes to C.J. Fiedorowicz and Fuller.
The Titans finally got going in the second quarter. Trailing 17-3, the Titans engineered a pair of scoring drives, both capped by Murray. Murray scored from two yards out and from one yard out to knot the score at 17.
The Titans defense did do a good job of stopping DeAndre Hopkins, holding the Texans star receiver to just one catch for four yards. Twice when the Texans were throwing to Hopkins, the Titans intercepted Osweiler, first by Jason McCourty (leading to a touchdown drive) and then by Perrish Cox.
The Titans must regroup, facing yet another road game as they travel to face the Miami Dolphins next Sunday.
The Texans, meanwhile, are now two games ahead of the rest of the AFC South, holding a 3-1 mark, while the Titans, Colts and Jaguars are all 1-3.